Stagecoach and Virgin win East Coast rail franchise pledging multi-million pound investment

Peterborough Railway Station. Photo: Paul Franks
Peterborough Railway Station. Photo: Paul Franks
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The newly chosen operators of the East Coast rail network through Peterborough have vowed a multi-million pound investment in services - including a new multi-storey car park.

A consortium of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin and Stagecoach has today (27 November) been announced as the winner of an intense bidding process for the £3.3 billion contract to run rail services on the East Coast Main Line.

The contract will start next March after the East Coast Main Line, which runs from London to Scotland, is re-privatised on March 1.

The line has been operated by a taxpayer-owned rail company since 2009.

It is understood the new business will be 90 per cent owned by Stagecoach and the rest by Virgin.

The new operator has already outlined an ambitious list of changes and improvements for the service.

A spokesman for the consortium said: “Passengers in Peterborough, Grantham and Newark are set to benefit from faster and more frequent services, improved weekend timetables and a host of station improvements following the Government’s announcement that the new InterCity East Coast franchise would be awarded to Stagecoach and Virgin.

He said: “The new franchise will bring major benefits to passengers whilst taxpayers will benefit from significant increases in premium payments to Government.

“The franchise will start in March 2015 and run until March 31, 2023, with the option for a one-year extension at the Department for Transport’s discretion.”

The franchise has been awarded to Inter City Railways Limited, which is Stagecoach’s venture with Virgin.

The programme of planned improvements includes.

Passengers in Peterborough to see more weekday services to Edinburgh from May 2016, with direct links to Aberdeen and Inverness from May 2020.

There will be an additional Saturday service to Leeds from December 2015 and additional Sunday services to Newcastle from May 2019.

Fastest journey times to Leeds will be reduced to under one hour 15 minutes from the launch of the major new timetable in May 2020.

More than £25 million to be invested in stations and car parks on the route.

Free station WiFi and new open plan customer zones will be launched at Peterborough, Grantham and Newark helping passengers to find information and purchase tickets more easily.

There will be extra cycle and car parking spaces with a new secure cycle hub and multi-storey car park opened at Peterborough.

There are also plans to improve station facilities with more seating, better retail facilities and the launch of car-club vehicles at stations and car sharing schemes.

The franchise will see more than £140 million invested to deliver, what it describes as “a new service designed around the customer”.

Trains will operate under the ‘Virgin Trains East Coast’ brand.

There will be new trains, which will be 65 new ‘Super Express’ trains from 2018 with an early multi-million-pound train refresh programme for existing fleet.

There will be more use of new technology with a new website, smartphone apps, electronic information posters at all stations, portable technology for staff and free WiFi on trains

Personalised travel with journeys built around individual customers, with at-seat food ordering, simpler ticket purchase and reservations, new Nectar loyalty programme

Improved customer rights and support with a new Passengers’ Charter with easier and faster compensation for customers through automated delay repay service; commitment to improved satisfaction scores with new independent passenger surveys, benchmarks and published results to drive satisfaction with stations, trains and customer service; and a dedicated customer and communities improvement fund.

Better integration with new station travel plans at every station to bring local stakeholders together to improve station access, online taxi booking service, a personalised journey planning tool for car park users, and car-club vehicle hire facility.

Community engagement with apprenticeships for young people, graduate and ex-offenders programmes, dedicated communities fund, support for small businesses and regeneration in disadvantaged areas.

Martin Griffiths, chief executive of Stagecoach Group, said: “Passengers using the East Coast mainline will benefit from hundreds of millions of pounds of infrastructure investment and service improvements over the next decade.

“Together with Virgin, our innovative plans will give customers new services, faster and more frequent trains, and easier, more personalised journeys.

““We will be investing in the committed East Coast people who will be joining our team, as well as delivering major programmes to help young people, communities and small businesses along one of Britain’s most important routes.

“We will match world-class customer service by giving a big boost to taxpayers with increased payments to Government.”

Patrick McCall, senior partner, Virgin Group, said, “We’re delighted to have been chosen to run the East Coast franchise.

“Our long term partnership with Stagecoach has seen a revolution in customer service standards, great product innovation, reduced journey times and improved timetables on the West Coast mainline.

“We plan to deliver similar success on the East Coast and are looking forward to working with the team there to build on their achievements.

“Our partnership will concentrate on areas for which Virgin is famous, such as looking after our customers and our people.

“We have a great opportunity to blend the successes of the East Coast and the West Coast lines to create a great experience for all.

“Together with these new ideas and initiatives, passengers will begin to see those Virgin touches on each and every journey.”

Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson said: “I’m very pleased that Stagecoach and Virgin have won the contract.

“It is important that Peterborough maintains its position as a pre-eminent station on the East Coast Main Line.

“Services are not going to be reduced and I hope there will be improvements in punctuality and the quality of journeys. I believe there is potential for reductions in some ticket prices.

Mr Jackson added: “It is an eight year contract, which is good because it allows the consortium to plan ahead. It also means £3.3 billion in revenue paid to the tax-payer over the eight years.”

Councillor Marco Cereste, leader of Peterborough City Council, said: “This is an exciting opportunity for Peterborough to benefit further from its unique strategic location on the East Coast Main Line, as we ensure we have a transport system in place that can meet the city’s needs and create a basis for further growth.

“The franchise will incorporate innovation, growth and development, which should provide a strong platform for the transformation of services along the East Coast Main Line.

“Over the initial eight-year life of this InterCity East Coast franchise, we are eager to see improvements through faster services, greater reliability, newer trains and increased capacity.

“These will put Peterborough in a fantastic position to continue its growth and meet its targets for increased prosperity.”

More on the announcement at - More seats, more services and new trains for East Coast passengers

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